Tower Rock Quarry Exposed

When this aerial photo of Tower Rock was taken April 17, 2011, the river gauge in Cape was at about 43 feet and heading higher. The half-moon bay downstream and to the right of The Rock was a big circular corn field until the Flood of 1993, Gerard Fiehler of the Altenburg Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum said. The flood created a huge scour basin that’s a good 25 or 30 feet deep and several football fields across. Trees that grew along the basin are probably in the Gulf of Mexico today.

Click on any photo to make it larger.

We climbed Tower Rock in 2003

Brother Mark and I climbed to the top of Tower Rock in 2003. When the river stage in Cape is about six or seven feet, it’s possible to walk across to the rocky island. (It’s about 14 feet and falling on Nov. 7, 2011)

BE CAREFUL.  If the water’s more than a few inches deep, it can sweep your feet right our from under you. Missionary Father Marquette, who explored the area by canoe in 1673, said the “savages” believed Tower Rock to be “the demon that devours travelers.”

This view to the south shows the remnants of a quarry that was worked off and on for 135 years until almost all of the rock was exhausted in 1972. At normal river levels, only a little rock, if any sticks out of the water.

Low water uncovers artifacts

Despite the tremendous volume of water that sweeps over the area even in normal times, traces of track and tipple car wheels survive. These wheels could date to the late 1800s, Tower Rock, a book distributed by the Perry County Historical Society, says. The author thinks they may have been buried until the 500-year floor of 1993 uncovered them.

Acme Stone Crusher survives

Tower Rock identifies this rusting metal object as a steam-powered Acme rock crusher. A similar or the same crusher was used across the river in Grand Tower in the mid 1870s.

Steamboat tieup

Not far from the crusher is this dual-ring steamboat tieup. There are several different styles on the jetty, the  oldest dating to the 1830s to 1850s. The quarry was most active from the Civil War through the Great Depression.

Now’s the time to see Tower Rock Quarry

If you’re going to go, go while the weather is nice and the river is low. This opportunity doesn’t come often.

Tower Rock isn’t some place you stop on the way to somewhere else. You have to REALLY want to go there. You start by passing through Altenburg on Missouri Hwy A. (It’s worth stopping at the excellent Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum. In fact, I printed a couple dozen scenic photo books for their gift shop to sell to gauge if there’s a demand for them. They’re going for $14, a steal.)

Might be longest suspension pipeline in world

After going up and down some steep hills, just before you get to what’s left of the German pioneer village Wittenberg (Population: two buildings and three people), you’ll see a small sign off to the right pointing to Perry County 460, a steep and washboarded gravel road. As you drive along that road, you’ll spot what may still be the longest suspension pipeline in the world, that carries gas from Texas to Chicago. Not far from there, the road narrows and you pass through an area of fallen trees. I’ve spotted a momma deer and her two fawns twice on this stretch.

Stop, Look and Listen

Now things get interesting if this is your first trip. You’ll make a sharp 90-degree bend to the left and cross over the BNSF railroad tracks and make an immediate right-hand 90-degree turn paralleling the river. After not seeing any trains at the crossing for years, two have passed on my last two visits: Stop, Look and Listen.

The stretch along the river is narrow and there’s a steep drop-off to the water, but you seldom meet a car. Eventually, you’ll come upon a parking area at the Tower Rock Natural Area, donated by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bussen to the Missouri Conservation Department.

If there are any persimmons left, give them a try. You won’t find any anywhere else that are sweeter.

Shameless Plug: Buy My Book

{Shameless Plug: don’t forget to stop in at the Altenburg Museum to pick up a copy of my Tower Rock book. The museum folks are nice and they’re going to be setting up their Christmas Tree exhibit in the next week or so. It’s worth seeing.]

UPDATE: The Tower Rock book is now out of print.



Unofficial Class Reunions

I think I’ve run into more classmates this visit than any other, just by the luck of the draw. It started out with the Class of 1961 and its 50th Reunion. Then, I got a call from frequent contributor Keith Robinson, who said he was in town from Kansas City. (I let him slip away without getting a photo of him, drat.)

Shari Stiver came down from St. Louis over the weekend and she, her mother and I roamed around Cape and Perry Counties in search of interesting things. The low water level on the Mississippi River let us go out on an old quarry south of Tower Rock that is usually covered by eight or 10 feet of water.

Terry Hopkins

Monday, former earth science teacher, ham radio operator, pilot and first teacher I ever called by a first name, Ernie Chiles, and Terry Hopkins from the Class of ’66 shared lunch at Mario’s Pasta House. I didn’t bother to shoot a photo of Ernie because, except for being a bit grayer, he looks just like he did when he was standing in front of a class at Central. You can click on Terry’s photo to make it larger. Terry wrote a touching piece about how important the Capaha Park Pool was to him when he was growing up.

Ernie’s plane is sick

The weather has been great for flying, so I was hoping to refresh my stash of aerials, but Ernie says his plane is down having a carburetor rebuilt. I recall that he was having to play with the mixture a bit on our last flight because the engine kept sputtering.

“I’ve never left anybody up there,” he said, reassuringly.

Reminds me of the time I was flying in the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s helicopter and we suddenly dropped like a rock to a not-so-soft landing on the beach. “What was THAT all about, Andy?” I asked the pilot.

“See that red warning light. That detects flakes of metal in the transmission. Sometimes that means nothing. Sometimes that means the thing that keeps that big fan over our head turning is chewing itself to bits. You’re better off if you figure out if it’s something or nothing while sitting on the ground.” We got a ride back in a squad car and the chopper got a ride back on a flatbed truck.

Pat Sommers

Pat Sommers and I were debate partners. I’ve written about Pat before, much to his chagrin. What you do in high school can come back to haunt you if your friend is a pack rat photographer.

While we were trading war stories about debates won and lost, Pat reminisced about the feeling of power he had when he was waving the gavel around after being elected Speaker of the House when we went to the State Student Congress. (I was elected Outstanding Senator or Representative.)

Central had a showing much stronger than what our numbers would have led you to believe possible. It came about because we put together a coalition of all the smaller schools to challenge the numerical superiority of the metro areas of St. Louis and Kansas City. That, or we just got lucky.

All this socializing is playing the dickens with my work schedule, but it’s been fun catching up with old friends.


Pipeline and Perry County Photos

I played hooky last night. Son Matt and I were out late working on a couple of prototype books for me to bring back to Cape next week when we celebrate Mother’s Birthday Season. We printed up about 25 copies of Tower Rock: “A Demon that Devours Travelers” to see if there’s any market for a small, inexpensive photo book about Tower Rock in Perry County. We’ve been working with the Altenburg Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum on a bigger project, so we’re going to see if they think there is a market in the gift shop for this.

Longest Suspenstion Pipeline

On the way to photograph Tower Rock, I have to pass what has been called the longest suspension pipeline in the world, carrying natural gas from Texas to Chicago. Over the years, I’ve shot it from the air, from a ferry underneath it and from the Missouri and Illinois sides. It’s an interesting structure that looks different under every lighting condition. I haven’t done the layout and copy for it yet, so it may get folded into the Grand Tower book if my critics tell me that it needs more “weight.”

If things don’t change, I expect to be northbound toward Cape Tuesday. That means you may have to go back to reading some of the older pages for your morning fix if I don’t shoot something on the road. A good place to start is to go to the bottom of the page where it says “Sitemap” in tiny, tiny type. Click on that and it’ll take you to a listing of everything that’s been published.

Tower Rock Persimmons

Mother’s not going to be happy with me for writing about this.She considers this her personal secret stash of persimmons.

When I got my van back from LeGrand Bros Transmission, I wanted to give it a good workout before heading to Florida. The road from Cape Girardeau through Perry County to the washed-away community of Wittenberg was the right mixture of hills and curves to see if it had any kinks. The final test was to take it on the hilly gravel road that leads to one of my favorite places, Tower Rock on the Mississippi River.

We always make it a point to go up there during Mother’s Birthday Season because there are some of the best persimmon trees we’ve ever seen at the overlook parking area. [Click on the photos to make them larger.]

Most persimmons don’t ripen before frost

Almost every persimmon I’ve seen isn’t ripe until after the first frost. I don’t know if the frost provides something to make them sweet or if the timing is just right when the frost arrives.

Most persimmons will turn your mouth inside out if they are the least bit green. If it’s ever happened to you, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t had it happen, come here. I have something I’d like for you to taste.

This tree doesn’t need a frost

What’s unusual about the fruit on this tree is that it ripens without a frost.

When I visited Tower Rock earlier in the spring, I thought this might be a light year. The rain and windstorms had knocked a lot of the fruit to the ground.

When we showed up today, the tree was loaded. Mother picked around on the ground until she found a couple that had fallen off the tree and had that rich, golden brown look. She wanted to taste persimmon a lot more than I was willing to risk, but she pronounced them good. If it had been Brother Mark, I wouldn’t have trusted him, but your mother won’t lie to you.

So, now I’ve let the secret out of the bag. I bet Brothers David and Mark just moved up a notch in the will.